A generation has passed since a physician first noticed that women who drank heavily while pregnant gave birth to underweight infants with disturbing tell-tale characteristics. Women whose own mothers enjoyed martinis while pregnant now lost sleep over a bowl of rum raisin ice cream. In "Message in a Bottle," Janet Golden charts the course of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) through the courts, media, medical establishment, and public imagination.
Long considered harmless during pregnancy (doctors even administered it intravenously during labor), alcohol, when consumed by pregnant women, increasingly appeared to be a potent teratogen and a pressing public health concern. Some clinicians recommended that women simply moderate alcohol consumption; others, however, claimed that there was no demonstrably safe level for a developing fetus, and called for complete abstinence. Even as the diagnosis gained acceptance and labels appeared on alcoholic beverages warning pregnant women of the danger, FAS began to be de-medicalized in some settings. More and more, FAS emerged in court cases as a viable defense for people charged with serious, even capital, crimes and their claims were rejected.
Golden argues that the reaction to FAS was shaped by the struggle over women's relatively new abortion rights and the escalating media frenzy over "crack" babies. It was increasingly used as evidence of the moral decay found within marginalized communities--from inner-city neighborhoods to Indian reservations. With each reframing, FAS became a currency traded by politicians and political commentators, lawyers, public health professionals, and advocates for underrepresented minorities, each pursuing separate aims.
Janet Golden's Message in a Bottle explores the fascinating history of the discovery of alcohol's damaging effects on fetuses. [Golden] does a solid job of delivering the science that backed the diagnosis, as well as the social context that shaped America's view of the condition...In the first chapter, Golden promises to provide a comprehensive look at the discovery of fetal alcohol syndrome, as well as the scientific, historical and social context that framed the debate over the condition. She delivers on all counts. Most interestingly, the book explains how laypeople and doctors alike were hesitant to accept that alcohol might be dangerous...The book details the chronology of changing medical knowledge and delivers its information remarkably well. -- January W. Payne Washington Post Book World 20050515 Golden's is a model study of the wide-ranging sociocultural consequences that can follow the clinical identification and description of a new syndrome. -- Robin Room The Lancet 20050611 Message in a Bottle by Janet Golden is the most comprehensive and easily read text on the history, politics, public health debate, legislation, psychosocial and family dynamics, and media discussion concerning fetal alcohol syndrome. This is a must-read for any professional involved in the study of alcohol abuse and neurodevelopmental outcomes of children, fetal medicine, pediatrics, social work, psychiatry, and other areas of mental health. -- Denis Viljoen Journal of Clinical Investigation This book is an almost essential read for students of developmental disabilities and diagnostic clinicians. For other readers it offers an engaging and informative insight into the effects of the discovery of new diagnoses on wider society. -- Raja A. S. Mukherjee British Medical Journal 20051008 Janet Golden's versatile cultural and medical history of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) in America is an enlightening addition to the literature on the social history of medicine, alcohol and drug problems, and women's health...This book would work well as a text in an undergraduate class on society and medicine or gender and health. At the same time, Golden's well-researched and documented study will enhance the knowledge of professionals in many fields, including history, gender studies, medicine, communications, and sociology. -- Pamela E. Pennock American Historical Review 20070401